Workers Vanguard No. 1162
4 October 2019
Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada
Against Fight the Right Reformism—For Workers Power!
We print below an article by our comrades of the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada that appeared in their English-language press Workers Tribune (No. 2, Summer/Fall 2019). Since publication, unearthed photos of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface have further exposed, in a crude way, the utter hypocrisy of the vaunted “multiculturalism” of the country’s ruling class. Trudeau’s actions reflect the racism that is intrinsic to the vicious, oppressive Canadian capitalist state, which is centered on the national subjugation of Quebec, and which carries out attacks on immigrant-derived racial and ethnic minorities as well as the dispossessed Indigenous peoples.
Four years of federal Liberal [Party] rule under Justin Trudeau have brought more of the same for workers and the oppressed. Stagnant wages and ever more precarious work are joined by mass layoffs, lockouts, strikebreaking and other anti-union attacks. Housing is unaffordable. Health care, education and other basic necessities have been cut to the bone. Trudeau’s Liberals have deported thousands of immigrants—for many others Canada remains a racist hellhole. The new NAFTA deal maintains the U.S./Canada free-trade rape of Mexico while also attacking workers in the U.S. and Canada. And the Liberals have reliably backed U.S. imperialism’s provocations abroad, including against Russia and in the anti-Communist drive targeting the Chinese deformed workers state.
These are the “sunny ways” that came with the Liberal victory in 2015. Now facing popular disaffection, Trudeau is trying to refurbish his tattered “progressive” image by pointing to the bogeyman of the Conservatives [Tories], who have won elections in five provinces over the past year. The front and centre target in this “fight the right” campaign is Ontario premier Doug Ford, who has waged particularly savage attacks on workers and public services, and serves as a convenient foe for Trudeau. The latter wants to harness the outpouring of justified anger against Ford to get re-elected in October.
The union bureaucrats and reformist left are beating the same drums to “stop the Tories” and “resist the blue wave,” meaning re-elect the Liberals and/or back the pro-capitalist social democrats of the NDP [New Democratic Party]. This “fight the right” crusade is a trap for workers and the oppressed.
None of the contending parties represent, in even a distant or distorted way, the interests of the working class. A pick-your-poison choice over which one will get to administer capitalism amounts to no choice at all. The parliamentary edifice of bourgeois democracy masks the dictatorship of a tiny, parasitic capitalist ruling class that amasses its profits by savagely exploiting the workers. As V.I. Lenin, leader of the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia, wrote in his book The State and Revolution (1917):
“To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary-constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics.”
The Conservatives are plenty reactionary, but there is no qualitative difference between them and the Liberals. These are the dual parties of Canadian capitalism, of which the cornerstone is allegiance to the British monarchy and the forcible retention of the Québécois nation. Representing the same rapacious ruling class, these bourgeois parties carry out all manner of attacks on the workers and the poor, while enforcing the national subjugation of Quebec. Nor does the NDP merit the political support of workers. While the Liberals and Conservatives are outright capitalist parties, the NDP is what Lenin called a bourgeois workers party: linked to the labour movement via the union bureaucracy but thoroughly pro-capitalist in outlook and program. While in opposition, the New Democrats pose duplicitously as friends of labour and the poor, while preaching class “peace” and chauvinist Canadian “unity.” And when they manage to attain power in one province or another, they carry out capitalism’s savage dictates.
With its strategic role in production, the working class is the only force in this society with the interest and capacity to sweep away the rule of capital. But the workers desperately need their own party: not a party of small-change reformism, but a binational multiethnic revolutionary party that champions the oppressed, including the independence of Quebec, and mobilizes the proletariat in struggle. While defending whatever gains have been wrested from the exploiters, such a party will have as its goal a workers revolution to overthrow the capitalist state—with its police, prisons, courts and army—and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. The rule of the working class will pave the way to a socialist society of equality and abundance for all.
For a Class-Struggle Leadership of the Unions!
Underpinning the whole “fight the right” scam is the lie that workers and their exploiters share a common interest. In Canada as in other imperialist countries, the capitalists have cultivated the labour bureaucracy as a privileged social stratum which, while sitting atop the workers’ mass organizations, ensures their subordination to the enemy class. Like the New Democrats, the union tops serve as a transmission belt for bourgeois politics into the labour movement. Instead of much needed class-struggle mobilizations against capitalist attacks, they uphold a ruinous program of national patriotism (“defending Canadian values”) while channelling discontent into the ballot box. The enormous increase in the rate of exploitation endured by a generation of workers is a direct result of the giveback contracts, two-tier and multi-tier wage schemes and similar devices acceded to by these union misleaders.
One wing of the labour bureaucracy, typified by the leaders of Unifor, supports the class enemy directly by backing Trudeau, who they call a “partner with workers.” Unifor president Jerry Dias worked alongside the Liberals in renegotiating NAFTA. And when GM announced that 2,600 Oshawa auto workers would lose their jobs by Christmas 2019, the union launched a vicious campaign against GM’s “choice to increase manufacturing in Mexico” and called for a boycott of Mexican-made GM cars. Such racist protectionism, pitting Canadian and U.S. workers against their class brothers and sisters in Mexico, is poison to class struggle!
Other labour bureaucrats strike a more “progressive” pose, but they too undermine labour’s struggle. After contract negotiations broke down late last year, leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) staged limited, rotating strikes rather than mobilize the full power of the union on the picket lines. The premise was that Trudeau was more labour-friendly than the previous Tory regime of Stephen Harper, and so would be more favourable to the workers in their battle against the Canada Post crown corporation. Like the Tories, the Liberals responded with strikebreaking back-to-work legislation. CUPW responded by issuing a statement urging the Trudeau Liberals to act on their supposed “narrative of support for unions,” while diverting the struggle into the dead end of the bosses’ courts.
In Ontario, the labour tops have featured Liberal and NDP speakers at the mass protests against Ford’s onslaught. Some of the more left-talking labour leaders have evoked the Days of Action of the mid-1990s—a series of one-day local general strikes carried out in response to austerity attacks by an earlier Tory regime. These actions gave a taste of labour’s potential power. But, for the union tops they were about letting workers blow off steam and refurbishing the tarnished image of the NDP, which had been discredited by the anti-labour attacks of the Bob Rae government. Once this was accomplished, the Days of Action were called off in order to try and beat the Tories at the ballot box by electing Liberals or New Democrats.
The labour misleaders put the brakes on the class struggle in exchange for a few crumbs from the bosses’ table. Instead, what is needed is a class-struggle leadership of the unions, one that understands that the interests of the workers and their exploiters are counterposed and irreconcilable, and that the bourgeois state is an enemy of the working class, whatever party is currently at its helm.
The NDP and the Reformist Left
In a statement calling to back the NDP in the coming election, leaders of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) claim that “at its heart, and by its history, the NDP is Canada’s party of labour and working people.” Not so. From its inception nearly 60 years ago, the NDP has always served as a political tool of the bosses: diverting the workers’ discontent into safe channels while trying to inculcate them with “Canada first” chauvinism.
In B.C. [British Columbia] today, the NDP, which rules in an alliance with the capitalist Greens, is locked in bitter contract negotiations with the teachers union, notably over the issue of workload and class size. It’s no surprise that the New Democrats’ posturing of support to the teachers, made while in opposition, fell by the wayside once they took office. Strikebreaking by B.C. NDP governments stretches back to the 1970s. In 2000, they broke a strike by CUPE public school staff in Vancouver after a week. Five years later, while in opposition, they denounced a teachers strike as illegal and stood by the salary freeze imposed by a Liberal government.
Various reformist fake-Marxist outfits have, nonetheless, made fighting for a government of the English Canadian NDP their life’s work, while seeking to push the party to adopt more left-talking policies. With the federal party currently floundering in the polls, the Fightback group [affiliated with Alan Woods’s International Marxist Tendency] advises that “adopting a militant, socialist program can serve to rally Canadian workers, and stem the NDP’s bleeding” (fightback.ca, 8 May). Socialist Alternative [of the Committee for a Workers’ International Majority] beseeches the NDP to shift “from dull safety to a bold left-wing program” (socialistalternative.ca, 16 May). The NDP has never had a “socialist” program because they are opposed to socialism!
We of the Trotskyist League understand that the NDP is an obstacle to forging the kind of party that the working class needs. We fight to break the workers from the politics of social democracy, an integral part of the struggle to forge a workers party based on the Marxist understanding that, in order to achieve a society where those who labour rule, the capitalist state must be overturned by the working class. The reformists, in contrast, peddle illusions in the bourgeois state and its reformability; thus their politics consist of oppositional activity completely defined by the framework of capitalist society. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky sharply characterized this as “the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state” (Lessons of October, 1924).
For Quebec Independence!
Ardent defenders of “Canadian unity,” the New Democrats and labour bureaucrats are deeply hostile to the struggle for Quebec’s national liberation. The NDP, for example, endorsed the Liberals’ so-called Clarity Act, which effectively makes Quebec independence illegal. It is vital that the English Canadian working class oppose this chauvinist poison, which undermines the struggles of all workers by chaining them to their exploiters.
The pre-election period has seen another wave of chauvinism against Quebec and francophones elsewhere in the country—from Ford’s attacks on Franco-Ontarians to growing reaction against French-speaking Acadians in New Brunswick. Alberta’s Tory premier Jason Kenney launched a Quebec-bashing campaign over Quebec’s refusal to let a pipeline go through its territory, ranting about the billions of dollars Quebec supposedly receives from Alberta. But for decades the Liberals have been at the forefront of the repression of Quebec’s rights. For instance, it was Pierre Trudeau who ordered the military occupation of Quebec in 1970, aiming to crush growing nationalist agitation. The holy trinity of Trudeau the father, the son and their anti-Quebec spirit truly epitomizes national oppression by the vile Anglo-Canadian ruling class.
Canadian nationalism, encoded under the guise of “unity” and “progressive values,” is the retrograde social fabric that keeps Quebec under the boot and allows the capitalists to divide and rule, amassing huge profits from the exploitation of the workers, anglophone, francophone and immigrant alike. Canadian social democracy and its pseudo-socialist offspring are a product of this history. As we wrote in Workers Tribune No. 1 (Summer/Fall 2018):
“The Canadian bourgeoisie maintains its ideological hold on the workers of English Canada through sacrosanct Canadian chauvinist unity. This poison is loyally transmitted into the working class through the NDP social democrats and the union bureaucracy. The English Canadian proletariat must at all costs defend the rights of Quebec, and champion Quebec independence if it wants to break politically from its own bourgeoisie and lead a successful fight for its own liberation.”
—“République ouvrière and Workers Tribune: Raising the Banner of Leninism!”
Québécois national liberation is the Achilles heel of the Canadian ruling class; its realization would liberate the oppressed Québécois, greatly weaken the Canadian bourgeoisie and clear the road for the liberation of anglophone workers from their “own” exploiters. We fight to build a binational revolutionary workers party with the aim of two parties in two states, inscribing on our banner: Down with the monarchy! Independence for Quebec! For socialist revolution!
“Green New Deal” =
Amid the scramble for votes, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party are also vying to appear “progressive” on the issue of environmentalism. But environmentalism as a bourgeois ideology is hostile to the interests of the working class. This is most fully embodied in the Greens, an outright capitalist party that could be aptly dubbed “Conservatives with composters.”
All forms of environmentalism take as their starting point the acceptance of capitalist society, seeking to pressure the profiteering ruling class to reorient its investments. Unable to look beyond this framework, environmentalists can only promote liberal, idealist and even reactionary schemes at the expense of industrial and economic growth. Marxists are not indifferent to environmental degradation, but our concern is tempered by our dedication to the eradication of the scarcity and human misery imposed on the masses of the world by the brutal capitalist system.
The latest eco bandwagon is the “Green New Deal” (GND), a campaign to transform the economy by getting rid of the fossil fuel industry, coupled with government investments in “green jobs,” infrastructure and social services, all to be financed by illusory tax‑the‑rich schemes. The NDP’s election platform, a “New Deal for People,” includes many of the GND’s measures.
The GND is a manoeuvre to give environmentalism a worker-friendly spin by looking for converts in the union bureaucracy and trying to veil its aim of slashing entire industries. Workers in sectors like oil, natural gas, mining and auto form a significant portion of what is left of the unions in the private sector, and have immense potential social power. Pressuring the capitalists to transform these industries into “green jobs” is utopian idealism, but more importantly it is a recipe for union-busting attacks. Already, huge numbers of workers in the “green economy” suffer from low wages, frequent injuries and no unions. Whatever the industry, it is vital for the labour movement to organize the unorganized.
This plan for a “green” capitalism intentionally evokes the New Deal of U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is hailed to this day by labour bureaucrats and fake-leftists. FDR’s New Deal, promulgated during the capitalist Great Depression of the 1930s, was aimed at refurbishing confidence in the decaying profit system. It was also an attempt to head off a growing proletarian socialist movement embodied in the waves of militant strikes that led to the forging of industrial unions.
The anti-worker premise of the GND was recently elaborated in an absurd article in Jacobin, the publication associated with the Democratic Socialists of America (which as a component part of the Democratic Party is committed to promoting the fortunes of U.S. imperialism). With the title “The Green New Deal Needs WWII-Scale Ambition” (3 March), these apostles of eco-austerity promote an imperialist war mobilization as a model!
Light years away from a revolutionary perspective, the reformist left has jumped on the GND bandwagon. Among the most craven is Socialist Alternative, which wants to see “a bold socialist Green New Deal that would make Canada an example of clean energy and a world leader in green energy technology” (25 June). Thus, they embrace the same pro-capitalist framework as the mainstream environmentalists and union tops, albeit with a thin “socialist” veneer.
Like the many other ravages of the capitalist profit system, the very real dangers of climate change and environmental destruction can only be properly addressed with the reorganization of production on a rational basis under an internationally planned socialist economy. That requires a series of socialist revolutions, particularly in the imperialist countries that have dominated and despoiled the world for well over a century. As our comrades in the Spartacist League/U.S. wrote in a polemic against reformist advocates of “ecosocialism”:
“When production is planned and directed at satisfying human need and not the profit motive, environmental considerations can be given their proper due. The vast expansion in knowledge, technologies and resources will put mankind in position to anticipate and prepare for whatever curveballs the natural world throws at it.”
—“John Bellamy Foster & Co.: ‘Ecosocialism’ Against Marxism,” Workers Vanguard Nos. 1032 and 1033, 18 October and 1 November 2013
There is a way forward! That is the authentic revolutionary program of Marxism, which we of the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada uphold alongside our comrades of the International Communist League. More than a hundred years ago, the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky provided a beacon to the oppressed masses of the world by leading the first and only successful proletarian revolution. The October Revolution was the greatest act of emancipation in history, expropriating the capitalists and the landlords, liberating the myriad of oppressed nations in the tsarist empire and opening the road to the liberation of women. We proudly stand on this tradition and seek nothing less than to build the nucleus of a Leninist vanguard party, the essential tool to accomplish the revolutionary overthrow of the parasitic bourgeoisie and its replacement with a new ruling class: the workers of the world!